When you hear or read a story what is your perspective? Are you a participant or an observer? For me I am usually watching the story like watching a movie. I can identify with some of the characters but don’t assume their role. I bet most of us do the same thing. If we agree with a particular perspective or some character trait, we see that figure as like us. They become someone we would agree with like a friend. So we could see ourselves as that character but don’t generally take their position. Even when I dream I often find myself watching the action but not directly participating in the action. Sometimes I get caught up as one of the characters. That is when it gets intense.
So what about Paul’s story? In his letter to the Corinthians he “brags” about all his hardships and his heavenly visions. When you watch his story what do you see? I see lots of ups and downs. I see pits and valleys. I see a roller coaster ride that I don’t think I would like to be on. Honestly the Heavenly translated visions sound really exciting but the beatings, shipwrecks, stoning and all that stuff doesn’t sound so good. Religion would say that Paul’s valleys are “suffering” and it is what matures us. I don’t agree with that at all and I think I can prove it. What does Paul say about his roller-coaster ride?
1 Cor 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (ESV)
Check out the Amplified version. The words are even stronger.
1 Cor 12:10 So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful in divine strength). (AMP)
In the Message it is clear that Paul had to learn about the ups and downs but what does he say in the end?
1 Cor 12:7-10 (MSG) Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
One morning I was spending some time with God and He gave me an image of a roller-coaster. I asked Him what He wanted to show me about roller-coasters. Then I saw a picture of a circus cannon. You know one of those that you shoot people out of. Then I was looking at the inside of the cannon and saw myself in the barrel. I felt God wanted me to stop watching the story but get in the story. So then I became the person in the cannon. I could see the barrel all around me and the opening ahead of me. I saw a box in my hand that had a trigger I could pull and get shot out of the cannon. So of course I pulled the trigger and I could feel the rush and acceleration. I saw the light at the end of the barrel and out the end I went. Then something strange happened. I was watching the story again instead of being in the story. I was an observer and not a participant. I saw “me” flipping through the air and laughing. As the observer however I wasn’t laughing but just watching. I saw “me” flipping over and over high above the ground and there below me was a roller-coaster! Then I felt God wanted me to “get back in the story” so I tried to imagine myself as the person flipping through the air. I was sure that “he” was completely unaware of any roller-coaster or anything else. He was just having fun. I couldn’t “get back into the story” and it was disappointing. Then the whole “movie” came to an end.
So you are probably wondering about how crazy I am by now. There is a point. I felt God was telling me that to enjoy His story we have to become a participant in His story. When this happens it is how we make history with Him. When we are living in the ups and downs, the ups and downs become our lives. When we are living in Him and from Him then our ups and downs become circumstance and not our lives. I hope that makes some sense.
I once had a similar “dream” where I had to get from one town to another. I was hovering high above the scene and could see both towns. The distance was great and my only means of transportation was walking. It did not look like a fun trip. Then I saw a giant eagle fly down to where I was standing. Like the cannon story, I was an observer watching “me” on the ground with an eagle just behind me. Then God said I needed to become a participant in the story. So became the person on the ground. I knew about the eagle (since I had seen him from above), so I turned around and there he was. He had the face of Jesus. He said He would take me to the next town and I willingly let Him pick me up. Then I did something really stupid. I turned away from His face and looked down at the ground as we soared higher and higher. Now I was really scared and started struggling. I was about to wiggle free of His grip when Jesus turned me around to see His face again. Then everything was OK. I wasn’t worried any more. I forgot about the journey and just stared into His face. It was awesome!
I feel like God wanted me to share those stories with you. I feel like He is telling us to surrender to His story. The ups and downs or the fear of the journey He will take care of. In His story we are aware of the circumstance but we are resting in His embrace and safety. I believe Paul’s “suffering” was only his process to learn to trust God and surrender to His strength. Look again at what Paul says. He actually takes pleasure in the valleys because God’s power is more apparent and God’s goodness powerfully flows through Paul’s weakness. It doesn’t sound like suffering to me. It sounds like surrendering to a good caring and loving God. It isn’t a new concept.
Prov 3:5 Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. 6 In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. (AMP)
I pray your ups and downs become human cannon rides laughing through the sky way above the roller-coasters of life. I pray your journey becomes the ride of your life in the arms of Jesus. I pray you learn to surrender to His story and in that place, I guarantee, we will all make history.